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This week, show us the money.Imagine you had the power to create an entirely new form of money. You'd probably give it an authoritative, yet neutral name. Something that exuded financial confidence. You probably wouldn't call it Beenz, yet one company did just that. Back in the days of the first dotcom boom, money was everywhere - large, excitable investors were funnelling it into every available web-facing orifice, and new companies with innovative ideas formed to take advantage of it.
With the growing media profile of early starters like online retailer Amazon (first a novelty, then a poster child), there was something of a fad to adapt existing concepts for the new “electronic frontier”. Hilariously, this saw Swatch attempt to reinvent time itself - while Beenz.com, like rival Flooz.com, suggested that what e-commerce needed was a whole new kind of currency.
The Beenz name derived from the premise that users would “earn” Beenz by visiting participating websites (which they had therefore BEEN to), presumably in the hope that the currency would seem quirky and in some way “fun to spend”. Its tagline was “it's like money, but better” - except that it wasn't. The number of services where Beenz could be redeemed was limited, and retailers, like their customers, preferred to trade in good old-fashioned actual money, leaving the door open for more straightforward transfer services such as PayPal (now owned by eBay) to help meet this demand.
But now more platforms for online interaction have emerged, along with new economic models. Current interest in the media darling virtual world Second Life could be likened to the dotcom bubble: just like the internet circa 1999, big brands are spending money to gain a virtual presence, despite relatively few people - especially regular consumers - actually using it on a regular basis.
Much of this attention has been generated by stories of Second Life's booming virtual currency, the Linden, which crucially exchanges back into real-world US Dollars. Even the BBC's Money Programme has taken an interest, “broadcasting” an episode in the world itself.
In the case of Second Life, it looks like its new virtual currency is a success. What remains to be seen, however, is whether “real” companies can make any of it by selling virtual variations of their brand, or if they will be replaced by native, uniquely virtual enterprises that meet the specific demands of this new market. Now that would be exciting.
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